Northern Ireland news

Asher's 'gay cake' judgment may raise uncertainty about what businesses can do

Gareth Lee (right) outside the Supreme Court in London. Picture by Victoria Jones/PA Wire

A RULING in the Ashers 'gay cake' row that a bakery did not discriminate "may raise uncertainty" about what businesses can now do, equality campaigners have warned.

The Christian owners of the bakery yesterday won a Supreme Court appeal over a finding they discriminated against a customer by refusing to make a cake decorated with the words "Support Gay Marriage".

The UK's highest court ruled that the refusal by Ashers bakery was not discriminatory. The five justices on the Supreme Court were unanimous in their judgement.

The court's president, Lady Hale, said the conclusion was "not in any way to diminish the need to protect gay people and people who support gay marriage from discrimination".

"It is deeply humiliating, and an affront to human dignity, to deny someone a service because of that person's race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief.

"But that is not what happened in this case."

Customer, gay rights activist Gareth Lee, had sued the company on the grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs.

Gareth Lee outside the Supreme Court in London

Speaking outside the Supreme Court, Mr Lee said: "To me, this was never about a campaign or a statement. All I wanted was to order a cake in a shop that sold cakes to order. I paid my money, my money was taken and then a few days later it was refused.

"That made me feel like a second-class citizen. I'm concerned not just for the implications for myself and other gay people, but for every single one of us."

Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission, said the judgment "may raise uncertainty" about what businesses can do and what customers may expect.

It also raises the prospect that "the beliefs of business owners may take precedence over a customer's equality rights, which in our view is contrary to what the legislature intended", he said.

The Rainbow Project expressed its disappointment.

Director John O'Doherty said: "Ashers agreed to make the cake. They entered into a contractual agreement to make this cake and then changed their mind. While sympathetic as some may be to the position in which the company finds itself, this does not change the facts of the case.

Ashers bakery owners Daniel and Amy McArthur outside the Supreme Court in London, where five justices unanimously ruled today that the Christian owners did not discriminate against gay rights activist Gareth Lee on the ground of sexual orientation 

"We believe this is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification. We will however take time to study this judgment by the Supreme Court to understand fully its implications for the rights of LGBT people to access goods, facilities and services without discrimination."

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the judgment was "historic and seminal".

She tweeted: "This has been a long journey for everyone involved in the case. I commend Amy & Daniel McArthur for their grace and perseverance. This now provides clarity for people of all faiths and none."

Peter Lynas, director of Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, said he was disappointed that the case had been pitched as Christians versus the LGBT community.

"This ruling affirms that this was never the case. The Ashers bakery have served Mr Lee in the past and continue to be willing to serve him again," he said.

"Whilst no one should be discriminated against because of any protected characteristic, this judgment is clear that this is not what happened in this case."

The Methodist Church in Ireland said it welcomed the clarity of the unanimous decision.

"They would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation. Their objection was to the message on the cake, not the personal characteristics of Mr Lee," a statement said.

"We welcome the protection that this gives to those who now cannot be forced to provide a service that conflicts with their own religious or moral convictions."

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